Updated: Jul 28
In the fitness industry, cardio is a buzzword that comes up many times and is particularly neglected by those hyper focused on gaining more muscle.
For many types of gym-goers, doing aerobic workouts are seen as a step backwards compared to another lifting session. Reality says otherwise, as some form of cardio training is necessary for any fitness program.
Your training goals and aspirations dictate the intensity and duration of your cardio sessions. Someone who wants to up their powerlifting total will not share the same demands as a weekend warrior participating in their first marathon.
No matter the goal, you should seek the most innovative and efficient way to exercise your cardiovascular system to avoid sacrificing your time.
Many people are not a fan of doing cardio because their programs lack specificity compared to other workouts (like lifting weights, for instance), where they have everything detailed regarding their sets, progressions, personal records, and so on.
In contrast, they slough off the numbers for their cardio in favour of just 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise. In short, if you want to maximise your cardio sessions, you should approach it with the same detail and precision as your other training programs.
Focusing on intensity levels and duration can reap the fruits of your hard work sooner than later. Below, we share five smarter ways to ramp up your cardio workouts and get more out of every session.
1. Start tracking your heart rate
Jumping into a cardio session without any means to monitor your heart rate is no different to driving a car without a speedometer. While you could get a general idea of the intensity of your workout, it's not impossible to gauge it accurately without a heart rate strap.
By letting you better track changes in your cardiovascular activity, heart rate monitors can make your sessions more structured.
Rather than aimlessly hopping from one piece of equipment to the next and just chugging along, you can better understand how much harder you should be working.
With a proper heart rate monitoring setup, you can more accurately determine when to cut your workout short and when you can press on further.
2. Pay attention to your heart rate recovery
Like sports cars that can stop quickly when you slam on the brakes, hearts in good shape can slow down much faster after intense activity. This drop in heart rate can be used to gauge your cardio fitness. Instead of simply focusing on your body's reactions during intense physical activity, also be mindful of how quickly your heart rate drops after one or a few minutes after exercising.
An excellent place to start is aiming for a decrease in 10 bpm after a minute passes and twenty beats or more at the two-minute mark.
3. Train your anaerobic threshold
The anaerobic threshold refers to a point in your heart rate where you can no longer get enough oxygen necessary to support the exercise intensity. It marks an intensity that is challenging to keep up with for a long time.
This usually occurs at the 85 per cent mark of your maximum heart rate. Instead of finding the exact numbers, estimating them via the talk test is better.
Once you reach your anaerobic threshold, you should only be able to get three to four words out of your mouth before taking another breath. If you can keep rambling on without issue, ramp up the intensity.
Exercising at this threshold is best at increasing your work capacity, increasing how long you can sustain hard work. The higher your work capacity, the greater your cardio will improve. Moreover, it can also be helpful on the weight room floor when doing intense circuits.
4. Build cardiac strength
Using the car analogy again, race cars can typically reach 0-60 in mere seconds. Similarly, highly-conditioned cardiac systems can swiftly adapt to any exercise intensity. When it comes to working on improving cardiac strength, intervals are among the best ways to do so.
To do this, set up a treadmill for a quick pace, ideally one that leaves you gasping in just 20-30 seconds. Do this, and you will see your heart rate spike. Once you hit 85 per cent or higher of your estimated peak heart rate, work your way down to a light walking pace and spend some time recovering.
Once your heart rate dips below 60 per cent of the estimated peak, repeat the process. You can better focus on improving your cardiac strength by prompting your heart rate to spike up.
5. Do low-level aerobic cardio for general conditioning and fat loss
Even though low-level or steady-state cardio workouts are often neglected in favour of the high-intensity sprint intervals mentioned above, it still has a place in your cardio program.
Despite not being the most effective method of increasing your running or biking capacity, it can still be helpful during recovery days to supplement your routine and improve activity without overtraining.
You can increase the blood flow to your working muscles without introducing a training stimulus by exercising at a moderate heart rate, around 65-70 per cent. This type of activity is perfect for days in between intense lifting sessions.
Of course, it should not be the main staple of your routine, so spare only one or a couple of days for easy cardio in your program, either as a break from intense workouts or as a starting point for more strenuous exercises.
Unlike other workout routines like weightlifting, cardio is often not given enough attention because many do not see it as equally rewarding, or maybe they are not fond of the exercise. Regardless, working on your cardio for your overall fitness is crucial.
Hopefully, with the tips shared above, you now have a better idea of making the most out of your cardio sessions and reap the benefits of your hard work sooner than later.
If you need extra help with your cardio workouts or other training programmes, consider signing up for a fitness membership in Singapore, where you can get the support of personal trainers and fellow gym-goers.